We all love a good recommendation. Anything is usually welcomed — be it a book, a movie, a show, a restaurant or a podcast. When it comes to beer, wine, whiskey or cocktails, we tend to give and take unsolicited advice if we have a polarized opinion. If we like it, we tell everyone about it. If we hate it and think it’s a dumpster fire of a beverage, we tell everyone. Often, we heed our community’s advice. In the land of alcohol, there are people who actually study the different varieties in depth. So, I pose this question to you: Does your wine taste different when the person who is suggesting it has a wine certification? I wanted to take a moment and explain a few certifications since there is an air of mystery around them.
I would first like to let you know that you don’t have to work in the beverage business to pursue these but it does provide the background and experience that will make you successful with exams. There are many certifications in the wine and spirit industry. For wine specifically, there is WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) levels 1-4 and the most well-known Sommelier. They all provide cool initials to add to your business card but what do they really mean? They all have their own methodologies for learning but they are out to accomplish the same thing: creating a society of well-educated people to keep a high standard in the beverage industry.
The WSET is a British based society of wine and spirit educators. It is respected and very valid in the global industry. It focuses on in depth analysis of wine regions, grape varietals and production of wine and spirits. This one starts at level 1 (beginner/introductory level) for which you can take a class that provides a broad overview and test. Every level gets harder and deeper. Level 4 actually requires years of study as well as publishing papers. WSET is widely used by writers and industry professionals like wholesalers or distributors.
Sommeliers have had a spotlight on them for the last few years with the release of television shows, documentaries and the ever-growing popularity of the culinary arts. Many people have heard the word but aren’t sure exactly what it means or even how to correctly pronounce it. It’s assumed by a lot of people that just because you have a deeper knowledge of wine or are really interested in it that you are a Sommelier. I’ve been asked many times and when I say “no,” I am almost always asked “Well, why not?”
It’s a certification that does focus on the education aspects that the WSET does but it is also heavily base in service. There lots of Sommeliers that believe if you aren’t working the floor (restaurant), you aren’t a Sommelier. Meaning, if they aren’t managing a wine cellar, talking to customers about wine and selecting and pouring wine for patrons, they aren’t doing their job. There are four levels: Introductory, Certified, Advanced, and Master Sommelier. Each level grows harder and more in-depth. To give perspective on how hard it is and how much time is invested, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas there are 164.
So, does the wine taste different when someone that spends hours poring over educational information chooses your wine for you verses someone who just tried it and liked it? The answer is “I don’t know.” At the end of the day you should always drink what you like and not be scared to try new things. My suggestion is to be open to suggestion and listen to why the person with the certification is saying you should have this. Always keep learning.